Can Tortoises Carry Weight?

Horses and oxen have been used for centuries to carry and transport us and our goods. We’re used to using sturdy animals to help carry our burdens, but recently people have been asking if larger tortoises would be able to carry extra weight, too. They lug around those big shells after all, so they must be very strong.

So, can a tortoise carry weight? Tortoises cannot carry weight on their shells. As hardy as they are, they’re not meant to carry things around. Putting extra weight on a tortoise shell can hurt them as they are not designed to be pack animals.

Consider this: Large tortoises, such as the Galapagos tortoise, can weigh anything from 250 to 500 pounds. That is already quite a lot of weight for an animal to lug around. But their bodies were built to hold their own weight, so it’s not normally an issue. Adding more weight is cruel and unnecessary. Below, we’ll explore why in more detail.

Can You Ride a Tortoise?

It’s a living creature not a toy, so please don’t sit on a tortoise. Not even the big fellas. You’d think that people charged with the care of these amazing and fascinating animals would know this, but that isn’t always the case.

Sadly, some zoos and fairs have attractions where tortoises must endure some nasty torture. At these attractions, children under a certain weight can have their parents pay so they can sit or ride on the back of giant tortoises. While that sounds all fun and cute for the humans, the tortoise doesn’t feel the same way.

It’s almost understandable that people believe tortoises are invincible and have super strength. They’re big and tough-looking. However, tortoises evolved to carry the weight of their own bodies, not the added weight of a squirming child or your belongings like a horse or mule. In fact, horses, mules, and other beasts of burden were specially bred over hundreds of years and domesticated for that purpose. Tortoises are still, essentially, while animals.

What Happens If You Ride a Tortoise?

A tortoise’s shell is very strong, we’ll give you that. They are able to withstand a certain amount of punishment, such as predators’ jaws or claws. That’s what they were designed to do, after all. But a human riding a tortoise is literally an unnecessary burden and it can cause health problems.

Damaged Legs

Being forced to carry the extra burden of a human being wasn’t in Mother Nature’s plans for the tortoise. This act could injure their legs. Even if a very large tortoise could carry a human, it will leave them exhausted or unable to walk properly.

Breathing Issues

Their lungs are located near the top of their bodies, right under the shell. Since the shell itself is somewhat porous, it has enough “give” to it to make it possible to compress the tortoise’s lungs if you sit on him. Constricting breathing is a surefire way to exhaust a tortoise and possibly kill him.

Stress Can Kill

Riding a tortoise also causes incredible stress, both physical and mental, which can actually kill a tortoise. Remember that tortoises aren’t horses—they can’t buck, run, or really protest if you sit on them and you’re causing them pain!

Tortoises Can’t Carry Weight Because of How They Move

To help illustrate how dangerous it is to ride a tortoise or add extra weight to one, let’s look at how they walk compared to humans. Tortoises walk on their toes. That means all their own weight is balanced rather precariously on those little digits. They must navigate the world this way, every day, balancing that big shell, too. It’s not an easy task, but they manage by taking lots of rest breaks.

Humans walk on the flat portion of their feet. It makes our movements effortless and easy. We can easily carry extra weight this way, too. We can also navigate tough terrain because we’re flexible and agile.

Now, try walking like a tortoise. Stand on your toes, heave your house onto your back, and go for a walk. Obviously, that’s not realistic, but you can pick up a heavy backpack instead. That backpack is like a tortoise’s shell. It’s heavy, but you can probably do okay for a little while. Now ask your buddy to jump on your back and see how far you get.

But I Saw a Goat Sitting on a Tortoise on Youtube!

You can find videos of anything online, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay. It’s true that there are some wild animals that have been seen jumping up on a tortoise’s back. Yet that doesn’t mean the tortoise likes this or that it’s safe.

What those videos don’t show is the internal damage to the tortoise’s muscles, ligaments, and joints. We don’t see the damage to the shell or the exhausted tortoise gasping for air after the cameras are shut off.

We can’t really tell a wild goat that standing on the tortoise makes it upset or hurts its legs. However, we can tell humans to respect animals and enjoy them in other ways.

Can a Tortoise Survive Being Run Over?

This might be shocking, but in some instances, yes, a tortoise could potentially survive being run over. In the past there have been some cases of tortoises or turtles being hit by cars and surviving. This depends on the size and age of the tortoise or turtle, of course. The size of the vehicle matters, too.

Some cases of tortoises being hit end with a few cracks in the shell. While this sounds pretty bad, a cracked shell can be healed. They need to be constantly monitored and repaired by a vet though.

Sadly, other tortoises do not make it out so easily. Many end up missing large chunks of shell, which can be deadly.

What Should I Do if a Tortoise is Run Over?

The best thing to do if you see a tortoise that was run over or if you run one over yourself, is to take the tortoise or turtle to a specialized vet right away. If it is severe, then try wrapping the shell in a clean cloth, like a coat or shirt. This will buy you some time and makes sure that the poor tortoise’s insides don’t come out or get further injured.

Turtles are a little trickier with shell breaks since they live in the water. That water and mud will have lots of bacteria which can be harmful if it gets in a wound. Still, wrap the injured turtle and get to a vet as quickly as you can. They may be able to save it.

If a Tortoise is Run Over, How Long Can it Live Without Help?

A morbid topic indeed, but an important one. Depending on how badly hurt the tortoise is, then you should have at least an hour to get it to a vet. A tortoise’s metabolism is much slower than other reptiles, so it will burn energy at a much slower rate. This means bacteria will be slower moving about the body and infections take a little longer to set in.

Obviously, the sooner the tortoise gets help the better, as with any severe injury. And the sooner the tortoise or turtle gets medical attention, the less dangerous it gets as both tortoises and turtles can heal pretty quickly with the right help. You don’t want the shell breaks to start healing in the wrong spot, allowing bacteria and mud into the sensitive tissues usually protected by the shell.

Can a Crushed Tortoise Live Without a Shell?

No as we discussed in this article about tortoise anatomy, the tortoise’s shell is part of it. It’s fused with the backbone and rib-cage. When a tortoise gets crushed under extra weight, severe damage is done to the shell. This opens the tortoise’s body to bacteria, leaves room for infections to set in, and jagged pieces of the shell itself can even damage the tissues underneath.

The tortoise will most likely perish after being crushed hard enough for the shell to shatter. However, in some cases the tortoise can survive a little longer but not without help from people.

Younger tortoises are at a higher risk of their shells being broken or punctured under extra weight. Additionally, if the tortoise or turtle is generally unhealthy then its shell will be more fragile and can’t handle much pressure at all from outside forces.

Can a Tortoise’s Crushed Shell Grow Back?

Unfortunately, no. Once crushed or broken, the shell will never fully reform. Extra weight causes too much damage, and a fully crushed or shattered shell cannot be salvaged.

Can a Tortoise’s Cracked Shell Heal?

If your tortoise was put under extra weight, accidental or otherwise, and you notice a crack in her shell, be careful! A simple crack isn’t usually life-threatening on its own. But it could slowly develop into a very deep break. This is especially true if your tortoise continues to have extra weight put on her.

Sadly, the only thing that can be done is to patch the crack in the tortoise’s shell for the rest of its life. Unless the damage is too severe, in that case humane euthanasia is the best option.

It is not recommended to try and fix a tortoise’s shell on your own. Always contact a vet who specializes in reptiles beforehand. However, there are some common ways that people have used to create a temporary fix for a tortoise shell. These quick fixes often buy the tortoise enough time to get to the vet for a permanent patch.

Epoxy seems to be a common fix for turtle shells, possibly due to its water-tight properties and strong bond. There are also some stories of a woman who 3D printed shell parts for her tortoise, and just replaces those parts as it grows. Again, we don’t recommend doing these things without the guidance of your vet, however.


Most tortoises grow to be very large, some getting to be 500 pounds in weight. Even though they are strong, they should never be used as pack animals. They should never be ridden on, even by small kids. Extra weight can damage or break their legs. IT can also crack, break, or totally crush their shells.

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